Madhuri Phillips is a Speakeasy presenter at Wanderlust Festivals.
I am always amazed to read yoga teacher bios that go on about how peaceful and enlightened yoga has made them, claiming to exist in a state of perpetual bliss. Really?
For me, yoga has been a most challenging path.
It is a path of ruthlessness, tearing away what doesn’t work, revealing who I need to be in the world. It is a never-ending path that propels me forward, which tests my discernment and strength of both character and heart. This path, of course, is laid on the unstable ground of life: Always in a constant state of flux, forcing me to find my center. The irony is that this constantly shifting path directs us to the part of us that is, in fact, unchanging.
Your little rubber yoga mat is like a magnifying glass for what is going on in both your mental and emotional body. Your yogic path boldly demonstrates how thoughts are intrinsically connected to the physical body. That is to say: The physical aspect of yoga is the tip of the iceberg. Let us not ignore the depth and immensity of what exists below the surface.
Yoga asanas are designed to keep you healthy by benefiting all of the systems of the body. The nervous system, digestive system, circulatory system, reproductive system—all your systems—are strengthened by specific practices. You can best determine what specific practice is appropriate for you by trying as many as possible, and listening to what resonates with your body and your mind.
Yoga was traditionally passed on individually, from teacher to disciple. The student would take the disciplines, or practices, and and do them for a set period of time until they were perfected and ready to “advance” to the next level of awareness. A student may be given a sadhana (spiritual practice) to perfect over a number of years before adding anything to it. In our fast-paced, goal-oriented society we want to know we are progressing or achieving when we are investing time into an activity. Instead, practice yoga for the sake of practicing.
The benefits will come, no doubt, but do not focus on your “achievements.” This is a trap that will lead to comparison and dissatisfaction.
The Ayurvedic approach to Yoga considers all aspects of who you are and what you need to support you in your life right now, taking into consideration climate, age, level of health, as well as mental and emotional stress. Yoga is used to bring balance on all levels of our being, through all koshas—a Sanskrit word that loosely translates as a sheath covering our true self.
Therefore, the principle of “opposites reduce” is wise to follow.
If you are feeling over-heated or agitated, you will need a cooling practice to balance yourself. If you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and stressed out, you will need a grounding, calming, and centering practice. If you are feeling dull and lethargic, then you will need a more dynamic and invigorating practice.
Each yoga posture is a well-designed instrument that has specific effects on the mind and body. Yoga is alchemy and must be investigated and experienced by you to know what supports you now. The knowing will unravel itself as you observe, participant, and notice the nuances of the practice you are doing. Noticing these small nuances and building on them is what will allow yoga to transform your body, mind, and heart. And that’s the path that leads to solid ground.
Photo by Melissa Ryan